Martha Lane Fox's women warriors, 3D printed sound and 'laughter art' in outer space - Wired 2015!
Jam packed. Back-to-back nuggets of our tech-driven future being dispensed by the world’s game changers. That’s how if feels to sit in the front row at Wired 2015.
Advances in technology are set to drive healthcare, music and art. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is enabling us to begin to explore healthcare based on individual’s biology and behaviour (sensors record this information and use it to create a personal health map, which is then used to assess how multiple factors combine to tell us whether or not a drug will work for that individual, for example). When you look at this information on a large scale (and using AI, we can effectively process this big data) it can then be used to shape drug trials and cut down the usual 10-15 years and 20+ billion dollars it takes to develop a drug, which for many people, may not even work. This is powerful stuff and it’s what BERG is all about. Speaker Nivan Narain had me at the Salvador Dali-like graphics, but once I got to understand the implications for not only treating, but preventing disease I was fully inspired.
Gabor Forgacs is taking this concept a step further and asking what a world of bio-printing would be like, where we can 3D print tissues and organs. To be clear, the printing of organs is not yet possible (there is currently no way to provide nutrients and blood supply to 3D printed organs so they can’t be kept “alive” whilst they are being printed, but what is possible is the printing of small areas of tissue that can then be used to perform drug (or other) trials on and determine effectiveness of a drug on an individual (in the most specific sense), or humans (in the broader sense) rather than on animals. This would far improve current drug testing methods which, partly because they are carried out on animals, unsurprisingly result in hit and miss effectiveness for humans. It’s the dawn of a new and exciting era for healthcare, with money-saving (maybe it can help slash our NHS bills and slow down privatisation? – wishful thinking perhaps) and improvements in treatment. I am willing Gabor to develop this technology – and fast.
In the creative space, Eyal Gever is an artist whose “palette is code”. He develops visual representations of sound, as demonstrated by animated graphics responding to beatboxer Reeps One’s voice. It’s a blast of auditory and visual stimulation, making it hard to imagine the sound without the graphics and vice versa. Eyal has also created a water simulation piece that captures the movement and physiology of a dancer in real time. The result is a digital rendering of a liquified dancer exploding into droplets and reforming as if orchestrated by the sound. It’s enthralling.
Eyal’s work extends to 3D printing moments in time captured digitally then created physically and installed amongst great and revered artworks including those of William Turner and Matisse.
His current next project revolves around a project with NASA aimed at 3D printing in micro gravity on the International Space Station. This continues on nicely from a talk I attended the night before held by Pint of Science at King’s College. The headline speaker was NASA astronaut Ken Bowersox and Eyal’s work helps complete a narrative Ken began about collaboration, cross-disciplinary work and how creative the teams are while working on the International Space Station. They spend a huge amount of time devising and performing informal experiments and photographing space and the earth below.
Eyal’s earlier sound sculpture work
The mandate for Eyal is to create art in space. He decided to capture sound, create it’s shape digitally (an extension of his previous work) and 3D print it before releasing it into space. The sound he felt captured the spirit of humans best was the laugh. Want to send your laugh to space? The Laugh app is available to download (but is apparently well hidden) so you can record your laugh, or the laugh of those around you, submit it for selection and potentially send your laugh in physical form to space!
One of the day’s most highly anticipated speakers was Martha Lane Fox. The mild irritation I felt as she sat a few seats for me and chatted to her assistant during the talks before hers (she was no doubt doing last-minute (sorry, couldn’t help the pun!) prep turned to disappointment when she failed to offer any solutions to the myriad of problems we face as women in tech (or rather resulting from not enough women being in tech), which she duly reminded us of during her talk. Yes, we know there aren’t enough women working in tech. Yes, we know women are just as capable/intelligent/resilient as men. We also know that people like Sue Black, Emma Mulqueeny and Anne Marie-Imafidon are doing great work to encourage girls to study STEM subjects and enter into STEM careers, but there has been a decline in the number of women entering into the professional world of science and technology for years.
Martha’s impassioned analogy of wanting to create a warrior hoard of women inspired by her journey to the Altai mountains in Mongolia, while she studied its women and how they removed their breasts so as not to impede their use of a bow and arrow (and therefore perform their duty equally alongside men) is a poetic one, but does it help our current debate? Martha’s rhetoric sticks in my throat. I wish she had come at this topic from a current standpoint, with a little more reality and a little less fantasy. On the ground, London-based Founders and Coders are training women to code in four months, for free. Two of them (Michelle and Claire) are currently in Poland competing with their ModeForMe colleagues to win investment for their ‘kickstarter for fashion’ app. In their spare time they run a group called Prosecco JS (girls who love Prosecco and Java Script) and teach coding to other women (for free) at Founders and Coders. I wrote a full blog post on Michelle and Mode for me, and they are just one example, but you see there is movement in the right direction and it’s inspiring. Martha’s talk does such startups and groups a disservice. Offer solutions, Martha. You’re preaching to the converted.
Header Image, Wired.co.uk : Martha Lane Fox